The case of Mick Philpott forces us to confront two very difficult issues- connected but also in my opinion quite separate. Firstly how on earth can a human being be quite as evil as Philpott. We read of such behaviour in different cultures, but not in Britain. The way in which he treated women was beyond imagination in the UK. He incarceration will be reviewed after a bit over 16 years. I tend to be on what Mrs D thinks of as the 'wimpy', second chance side of the rehabilitation debate, but Philpott is in a different league. Just hope he's never released and the key is lost. This is fairly straight forward.
The second issue is the system whereby the state pays for however many children irresponsible people bring into this world. Philpott and his women had 17 children between them. His 'lifestyle' was entirely paid for by the taxpayer. The way in which the two issues are connected is that it was greed for the benefit payments linked to the children that let Philpott to concoct his terrible plans - which led to the death of 6 of his children. The evil of the man is otherwise disconnected from the welfare issue, but the question of the degree to which the state pays for this sort of lifestyle and an unlimited number of children has been put on the agenda by this tragedy whether we think it should have been or not.
My wife and I have four children. It was a conscious decision to have four. Then we decided it was enough and I had 'the chop'. Our four children were careful not to consider having children until they felt they were in a position to afford them. We have only two (and a half) grandchildren. We would have loved to have had more. At the same time we also see children being born to people who seem not to have taken the matter seriously, and depend completely on the state to pay for bringing them up. The question being asked by many is whether its right that the state should pay for the lifestyle of people like Philpott or for an unlimited number of children they have - expecting responsible people to pay for it all. So happens the only objections I've received to the £500 per week limit on benefits have been from very large families.
Several of my parliamentary colleagues have called for a limit on child benefits for just two children. I don't support this. Its not the children's fault. And with so many men and women having children in multiple relationships it would not be possible to operate such a limit easily or fairly. But there is going to be a debate. Personally I think there may be diminishing levels of support as the number of dependent children increase. Whatever, its to be very controversial. But I'm not at all sure the British political system is capable of holding it. It might all be just too 'difficult'. The country may have to actually go bust first.